Parents influence every aspect of their child’s lives – particularly when it comes to weight management.
We know that parents are key to developing an environment at home that supports healthy eating and physical activity among children and adolescents.
Parents are able to shape their children’s dietary practices, physical activity, sedentary behaviours, and weight status in many ways, creating life long habits. For example, parents affect their child’s development through their:
- knowledge of nutrition;
- influence over food choices, meal structure, and home eating patterns;
- modelling of healthful eating practices;
- physical activity levels; and
- modelling of sedentary habits including television and computer use.
Why involve Parents in Weight Management for Children?
Studies suggest that there are three reasons for involving parents in weight management interventions for children:
- Weight Management is generally best managed through change for the entire family. It may be unrealistic to intervene with one member of the family, while other family members are modelling and supporting behaviours that run counter to the intervention’s goals.
- Parents serve as models, and reinforce and support the purchasing and maintenance of eating and exercise behaviours.
- To produce maximum behaviour change in children, it may be necessary to teach parents to use specific behaviour-change strategies such as positive reinforcement. Several successful school-based health-promotion interventions include a component targeted at improving parental behaviours.
Even though childhood weight management experts discourage dieting, parents who feel the need to control a child’s weight commonly encourage dieting.
Studies on dieting behaviours consistently report that their parents’ inducement to diet is the most significant factor in causing children to begin dieting. Their parents’ direct verbal encouragement is more influential than the parents’ own dieting behaviours.
Many adolescents whose parents urged them to diet, report engaging in unhealthful dieting behaviours. Focusing on dieting for weight control may overemphasise the thinness ideal, and over time may lead to an increased risk of weight gain. It is important for parents to learn about the risks of dieting, and to talk with their child’s doctor and psychologist to promote healthful habits.
A variety of individual and group psychological therapies have been used in weight management treatments for children.
Behavioural and cognitive behavioural therapies are the most commonly used psychological therapies for weight management, as they have been demonstrated to facilitate better maintenance than other therapies.
Behavioural treatments appear to work primarily by enhancing dietary restraint by providing adaptive dietary strategies and discouraging maladaptive dietary practices; and increasing motivation to increase physical activity.
Therapy aims to provide the individual with coping skills to handle various cues to overeat and to manage lapses in diet and physical activity when they occur.
Treatment also provides motivation essential to maintain adherence to a healthier lifestyle once the initial enthusiasm has waned. Therapeutic techniques may include stimulus control, goal setting, and self-monitoring.
When cognitive techniques are added to behaviour therapy they appear to improve program success and reduce weight regain. These strategies are aimed at identifying and modifying aversive thinking patterns and mood states to facilitate weight management.
Author: Cassandra Gist, BPsych (Hons), MPsych, MAPS.
Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist has a Masters in Health Psychology, and is able to treat clients aged from two years old right through to adulthood. She is experienced in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as well as children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist, try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129, or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.